The last Field Day, when children compete in games and frolic outdoors, was a perfect spring day at Landover Hills Elementary School. Under a sky of crystal blue, teachers and pupils kicked up dust on the softball field one last time and set red, blue and pink helium-filled balloons free over the tiny town for which the school was named 34 years ago.
Each balloon had a string attached to an index card bearing the name of a student. On the card was the request, "PLEASE BE MY SUMMER PEN PAL," and a new address, "GLENRIDGE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL."
Principal Anthony G. Randolph said he wants to make sure there will be mail awaiting the students when they arrive at their new school in September. Landover Hills, a fixture in the quiet, tree-lined community and a special place to its teachers and students, will close this week because of declining enrollment.
Eight Prince George's elementary schools were shut this week as part of a consolidation of students into the system's newer buildings. Twenty-three elementary schools have been closed over the last three years.
Landover Hills bulged with nearly 700 pupils during the mid-1960s when the young families in the community's well-kept detached homes were still producing an ample supply of school children. This year, the enrollment is only 299, including children who are bused from nearby Cheverly and Seat Pleasant.
Landover Hills and West Lanham Hills Elementary will be merged in the Glenridge Junior High School building, which was closed previously. It is less than a mile away but across Rte. 450 from the town of Landover Hills. Randolph, who is also principal at West Lanham Hills this year, will run the combined school next year.
The additional facilities in the junior high building, such as cooking laboratories, sewing rooms and a language laboratory, will enable the school to offer programs unavailable to most elementary students.
But Barbara Gilbert, who has been teaching for six years, was not sure she wanted to go.
"In some ways yes, but in a lot of ways no," said Gilbert, who was coaching an overmatched team of sixth graders in a softball game against the teachers. "There are a lot of memories here. It has a lot of nice touches, like the fireplace in the library."
There was the legend of the "Goatman," said to lurk in the trees behind the school waiting to prey on unwary children; "Rocky Raccoon," a striped visitor who lived between the roof and ceiling of the school so long that his likeness became the school emblem; the "Tarzan Swing" of rope and wood down the hill behind the school; and the three acres of thick woods that surround the school on three sides.
"My children have been here since my son went to kindergarten 10 years ago," said Jacqueline McCann, a Landover Hills parent who does substitute and volunteer work at the school. "I love it, and I hate to see it close."
McCann, a Landover Hills Town Council member, spoke against the closing at public hearings when the County Board of Education voted the present round of school closings in 1981.
"It's almost like people didn't believe it would happen, and when it did it was too late," she said.
Several alternative uses have been discussed for the building, including a senior citizen day-care center and offices, but McCann noted, "Once the building is empty, it's an abandoned building."
There had been a well-kept nature trail through the woods; walks along it were part of the regular school program. But in recent years the school curtailed most activities in the woods because of problems with teen-agers.
Most classrooms have a view of the woods. Sixth-grade teacher Velvin Jones said she will never forget the view from Room 18, which opened onto a secluded, grassy hillock at the wood's edge.
"I had the privilege of that view as my early-morning scenery, especially the snow scenes," Jones said.
In that room, Jones said, it was like a family every morning, even down to the aroma of bacon frying. Jones said she believed it came from office breakfast preparations of building engineer Henderson Robinson, who had been at the school since it opened.
"I'd walk in and smell that bacon, and it sure was good," sixth-grader Andy Wendling said.